TERRE HAUTE —
A kid pedals a bicycle, a ball glove looped over the handlebar, headed to a sandlot game.
It didn’t get much better than that for a 10-year-old in summertime.
A long time ago.
In a ceremony this afternoon, the city of Terre Haute will formally dedicate the softball diamond at Spencer F. Ball Park as Tommy John Field in honor of the native son who became one of the greatest lefty pitchers in major league baseball history. Parks Department recreation director Bruce Rosselli selected that field, appropriately, because John played his last non-professional game there with his Gerstmeyer High School teammates in 1961.
John then pitched nearly three decades in pro ball, including 26 in the bigs. Like the field, a first-of-its-kind elbow surgery, performed in 1974, now bears his name (though no ceremonies were involved). John recovered magnificently, played until 1989, retired with 288 wins, and deserves induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Spencer F. Ball Park — commonly referred to as Spencer Field — served as a stepping stone in John’s journey, and the story begins well before his high school days.
In addition to Gerstmeyer and rival Garfield having separate home diamonds at the park on Eighth Avenue, Spencer housed multiple fields in John’s era and stood as an oasis for sandlot games and informal baseball instruction. Kid-organized neighborhood games — with no coaches, no parents, no uniforms and no umps — have become rare in 21st-century America for a variety of reasons. Older generations, though, can remember when grade-schoolers did the hand-over-hand bat-handle ritual to decide which team batted first, called their own balls and strikes, chased down every foul ball, and pedaled their bikes to the field.
John’s memories of such days, written in his book, “TJ: My 26 Years in Baseball,” will ring true for millions of Americans in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.
“There were always fields and parks to play in,” he wrote. “Spencer Field on the north side of town, Woodrow Wilson to the south. Spencer Field was three blocks square with about 10 baseball diamonds. We played at Spencer constantly. Summers were the best. You could find games going on all the time. I’d ride my bike down to Spencer in the morning and get in a game. Even if my team wasn’t scheduled to play, I’d hang around, because somebody would invariably come up short. You’d always be in a game. You may not be playing the position you’d normally play, but you were playing baseball. To me, that was all that mattered.”
Spencer, built in the early 1920s, has accommodated those opportunities for decades.
The 1993 movie “Sandlot,” set in 1962, nails that informal, blissfully unscripted atmosphere. Neighborhood buddies overcome a frightening dog who eats baseballs hit over the fence (including one autographed by Babe Ruth, also known as The Sultan of Swat, The King of Crash, The Colossus of Clout and The Great Bambino), an ill-advised chewing tobacco experiment, and misadventures at the public pool.
Times change. That film is now 20 years old, and sandlot baseball has faded even farther into nostalgia. Some reasons are understandable, others not so much. In a 2008 Associated Press report, baseball experts and sociologists attributed its rarity to “the changing family structure, video games, parents’ fear of crime, and the proliferation of organized and so-called ‘select’ teams for more talented kids.”
In any era, Tommy John would obviously be one of those talented kids. Yet, other guys who never reached the majors but played in some of those summertime games with John have undoubtedly regaled their grandkids with stories of “the day I batted against Tommy John at Spencer Field.”
Thank goodness one of those Spencer diamonds remains active, as a softball facility, and today’s fitting tribute to Tommy — including an 8 p.m. program at the Indiana Theatre, featuring the 70-year-old legend — will raise funds to make improvements. The diamond keeps fresh the memory of its greatest alumnus and a place where, as John put it, “summers were the best.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or email@example.com
Field to be dedicated to baseball icon today
TERRE HAUTE —
A kid pedals a bicycle, a ball glove looped over the handlebar, headed to a sandlot game.
Year nearing its end: 12-month celebration of Wabash spanned Valley
Throughout this year, events and activities have focused attention on the Wabash River through Terre Haute, Vigo County and surrounding counties. It’s been called 2013 Year of the River. On Tuesday, Art Spaces Inc. and Arts Illiana presented a wrapup of the observance’s events.
Cultural planning: Consultant to help city reach arts district designation
Terre Haute officials want a portion of the downtown to be designated by the Indiana Arts Commission as one of the state’s cultural arts districts.
Sheriff: School officers have been a win-win
Placing armed officers in all Vigo County schools not only protects children and staff from violent acts, it also has helped prevent negative behaviors in the schools — both on the part of students and adults.
Gov. Pence details 2014 education agenda
Now that reform has been implemented, Gov. Mike Pence said Tuesday it’s time for Indiana’s legislature to focus on education innovation
Terre Haute man sentenced to Federal Prison
A Terre Haute man has been sentenced to 11 years, three months in federal prison on charges of possession of child pornography.
Closing arguments today in Ross assault trial
Testimony began and concluded Tuesday in the trial of a Terre Haute man accused of battering a person who later died at the Vigo County Jail.
Victim of Monday Parke crash ID’d
Police have identified the victim in a fatal car accident in Parke County on Monday. Linda Chaney, 75, of Reelsville was driving south on Indiana 59 south of Mansfield when her vehicle left the road and struck a tree. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
State Police arrest impaired truck driver
An Illinois semi-trailer driver has been arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after registering more than three times the legal limit on a blood-alcohol test.
Christmas in the Park: Judges survey lights; Troop 200 comes out on top
The rockin’ snowmen were singing “I can’t get no satisfaction,” but they won first place anyway.
Board of Works: Sewage fees waived on Indiana 46
The Terre Haute Board of Works and Public Safety approved a memorandum of understanding Monday between the board and the Terre Haute Department of Redevelopment to waive sewer connection fees along part of Indiana 46/U.S. 40 on the city’s east side to promote future development.
VCSC Board approves oil, Pepsi contracts, gets ‘beard fund’
The Vigo County School Board approved a six-year exclusive agreement with Refreshments Services Pepsi and an oil and gas license with Pioneer Oil during Monday’s School Board meeting.
Agency seeks help for homeless
A Terre Haute agency that works to help homeless people hopes that other groups wanting to help will get involved to better document the needs in the Wabash Valley.
2 days, 2 fatal car wrecks in Parke County
The Parke County Sheriff’s Department has investigated two fatal accidents over the past two days, at least one caused by black ice, authorities say.
Tribune-Star staff takes awards for writing, editing, design
The Tribune-Star won three first-place awards among Indiana newspapers with a daily circulation between 18,001 and 39,999 in the 2013 Hoosier State Press Association Better Newspaper Contest.
Aviation plant noted for safety system
GE Aviation in Terre Haute has earned the Voluntary Protection Program Merit Certification for implementing safety systems that identify, evaluate, prevent and control occupational hazards to prevent employee injuries and illnesses.
Ivy Tech board awards renovation contract
Renovation of the Learning Achievement Building for the use of diesel technology gained unanimous approval Monday from Ivy Tech Community College Wabash Valley’s Board of Trustees.
Jury selection begins for death of inmate
Jury selection began Monday afternoon for a Terre Haute man accused of involuntary manslaughter in January.
James Madison Ross IV, 40, appeared in Vigo Superior Court 1 with defense attorney Christopher Shema.
Rockville man on run found, arrested
A Rockville man faces criminal charges after a domestic disturbance and a three-hour manhunt.
Battery, stabbing suspects face charges
The condition has improved for a Terre Haute man who sustained severe head injuries in an assault on Friday afternoon.
Man picked out of lineup, charged with armed robbery
A Terre Haute man faces two counts of armed robbery stemming from a November incident in which two men were robbed at gunpoint near 10th and Locust streets.
Honor awaits 181st Intelligence Wing
As he sat on his mother’s lap inside the Air National Guard Base at Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field on Sunday, little Henry Shultz was all smiles as he waited for the start of a ceremony recognizing his father’s service to the community and the country.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘The mind is a dark forest’
If you hadn’t noticed by reading this newspaper or hearing me crow about it myself, I have another collection of stories out in print.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Hoosiers’ priorities vs. legislators’ agenda
Every year at about this time, Statehouse reporters like me ask lawmakers what their priorities will be for the coming year.
Restaurant Inspections: Dec. 9, 2013
Operation Warm Christmas: Giving warmth
Crews from a Wabash Valley heating and cooling business traveled in two different directions — one went north and the other south — during the early, cold Saturday hours with one mission for the day: to bring warmth to two Terre Haute homes this season.
Small tax, big Statehouse fight
Who would have believed that old fork lifts, barber chairs and aging computers could capture the attention of so many folks around the state?
‘A part of living history is now gone’
With the death of Nelson Mandela, the world has lost a “giant of history” whose fight for justice and spirit of forgiveness continue to serve as an inspiration to many, say those familiar with his legacy.
Pepsi, oil and gas agreements on School Board agenda
The Vigo County School Board will consider an agreement with Pepsi and an oil and gas license with Pioneer Oil when it meets at 6 p.m. Monday.
Q&A: Wabash Valley legislators reply to questions on business tax proposal
Wabash Valley legislators reply to questions on business tax proposal
Indiana lawmakers face ambitious agenda in short session
Lawmakers are crafting an aggressive agenda for the new year that includes a tax break for businesses, preschool funding for the poor, road spending and a divisive constitutional amendment — all packaged into a so-called “short session” of the Legislature.
- More News Headlines
- Year nearing its end: 12-month celebration of Wabash spanned Valley